The intriguing bird this week, might easily have been mistaken for a discarded moccasin. On closer inspection, some readers might recognise it as a young Spotted Nightjar. This is a species which is part of a large order of birds containing some of the most fascinating creatures of the night; frogmouths, owlet-nightjars, potoos, and the Oilbird. There are three nightjars native to Australia but the Spotted Nightjar is the most widespread, and the only species we see here in Central Australia.
The name “nightjar” was given to the bird by early settlers who marked the jarring effect the bird’s curiously beautiful call has on a still night in the scrub. During the day it roosts on the ground where the intricate patterns of the plumage make it almost invisible. The picture shows a young bird with a distinctly pink tint to the feathers.
This little bloke was discovered by local ecologist Holger Woyt, roosting in quite an exposed position; the gravel in the middle of his yard! Nightjars are most active just after dark and just before dawn when you might see them hawking for insects with a characteristic bat-like flapping flight. Unfortunately they are also a very common roadkill as they have a habit of sitting on the road at night and flying up into the headlights of passing traffic. If you’re out spotlighting or driving you might be able to pick out a nightjar, before it gets squished, by its strong, cherry-red, eyeshine.
Other birds causing a stir this week have been the budgies. There have been some very large flocks reported in recent months in SA and western Queensland, but flocks of up to a few hundred birds are beginning to be reported across the south of the NT.